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International Team Challenges - Differences in time-zones, terminology, etc.

  • 1.  International Team Challenges - Differences in time-zones, terminology, etc.

    Posted 02-07-2022 06:59 PM
    I thought it might be interesting to discuss some things to consider when working in groups that span the globe. Some things I have learned to be cognizant of include the following:
    • Date formats - Day/Month/Year can very easily be mixed up with Month/Day/Year when using numbers only formats! I usually spell out the month and name the day of the month to avoid confusion. 
    • Time formats - when working on a global clock, telling someone that you'll call them at 8 can mean either very early in the morning, or very late at night. I like to confirm AM or PM, or simply use the 24:00 format instead. 
    • Daylight Savings Time - a personal bane since not everyone uses it (or has even heard of it!). I once had an intern from China who was very confused about why all of our timeseries data that we were working with had a gap between 2AM and 3AM in March.

    What are some other issues to overcome when working on a global team?

    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer

  • 2.  RE: International Team Challenges - Differences in time-zones, terminology, etc.

    Posted 02-07-2022 11:18 PM
    Here are some others off the top of my head based on my own experience

    • Avoid humor as it often does not translate and could pose a risk in an extreme case.
    • Avoid colloquialisms and cliches as they usually do not translate.
    • When emailing consider the time of day, especially if it's late at the receiving end and you are wanting something.
    • Be aware of local holidays. Knowledge of local holidays can also build rapport.
    • Stay current on current events in the various countries in which the folks you're talking to live. Again, can build rapport. Sports is usually a safe topic.
    • Be aware of how your message is being received and use direct and indirect styles as appropriate based on cultural norms.

    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX

  • 3.  RE: International Team Challenges - Differences in time-zones, terminology, etc.

    Posted 02-14-2022 02:02 PM
    Only thing I would add to this list is to avoid contractions.

    Mark Myers, P.E., M.ASCE
    Gig Harbor, WA

  • 4.  RE: International Team Challenges - Differences in time-zones, terminology, etc.

    Posted 02-12-2022 10:19 AM

    Hi Christopher! 

    That was an Excellent question!  

    I think developing a Global Guide for the Profession would be a nice idea.

    Once the world is still remains in fragment territories, it is not purely viewed as 1 place for all!  we are not even converging to the same path sometimes!. 

    Philosophy, Cultural questions, Way of life, general difficulties... Every territory in this planet has its traditions, A change from "city a" to "city b' would be impressive sometimes! 

    The Engineer of the Future World would certainly be able to work in an Environment Changes itself for better along the way , Adaptable one, more inclusive so more tools would be developed to face those communication issues (some examples would be the universal translator form Star Trek, very interesting concept of technology , although Very simple & Elegant!!) 

    2º Insert Risk Management by establishment of long term resilience & sustainability  strategic plans and give the opportunity to them execute tactically operations in this sense! 

    1º Innovation is the Key 

    Andre Newinski S.E., A.M.ASCE
    Engenheiro Estrutural
    Santo Angelo

  • 5.  RE: International Team Challenges - Differences in time-zones, terminology, etc.

    Posted 02-13-2022 10:22 AM

    Some places in the world use a comma for a decimal point rather than a period. Also a space is used to separate three numbers (increments of a thousand) rather than a comma. Instead of 72,520.23 the value would be 72 520,23. This was unfamiliar to me before I encountered it when working in another country.

    The angular unit of grad instead of degree. A circle is based on 400 grads rather than 360 degrees. Thus, a quarter of a circle is 100 grads compared to 90 degrees. Grad could also be grade, gon, or gradian. I was a bit familiar with this from school long ago, possibly high school or even grade (not grad) school. Additionally, a story from one professor (ugrad. college, still not grad. school) stands out. That prof. related how concerned for safety he became when a pilot would report that the temperature at the destination airport was 23 Centigrade instead of 23 Celsius. The prof. noted if the pilot does not get even units of temperature correct, what else is confusing folks in the cockpit.

    Work hours: Begin day at 7 AM and end day at 6 PM with a "siesta" from noon to 3 PM when most all businesses, government offices, and banks were closed. That was the heat of the day, highest temperatures and intense sun. Construction often continued during "siesta" though.

    The position that there are 5 not 7 continents:  Africa, America, Asia, Europe, & Oceania. No North or South America considered.  Also Eurasia considered as a continent but not Antarctica.  More an issue is political boundaries and identity:  Someone from the UK (British, English, Scottish, or Welsh) as well as someone from or living in Palestine.  Even in my hometown in Indiana some people could get upset depending on me saying Burma or Myanmar due to the significant number of resettled persons who live here.   Cylon or Sri Lanka as well as Upper Volta or Burkina Faso .... My grade school soccer coach was born in Yugoslavia, a country that does not exist now compared to when he was my coach in the 1970s.  I am not sure how that might matter to him but I know he was glad to be in the US.  He also was awarded Engineer of the Year by the way, something I learned long after playing soccer under him. 

    David Devine P.E., L.S., M.ASCE
    Fort Wayne IN

  • 6.  RE: International Team Challenges - Differences in time-zones, terminology, etc.

    Posted 02-14-2022 11:56 PM
    Spelling and word usage:  All the extra "u"s in words in the British world that never entered the US, and don't forget some that did.  All the word endings that are "er" in American English and "re" in British English.
    Typical names of various and sundry everyday items, for example on automobiles, "bonnet" versus "hood" and "boot" versus "trunk".
    Names of other items and technical terms, such as on track, you go from rail to tie plates to ties to ballast and have joint bars and bolts.  Rails have head, web, and base.  In the British world you go from rail to base plates to sleepers to ballast had have fishplates and fishbolts.  Rails have head, but sometimes called crown, fishing, and foot.  The gage side of the rail, although commonly the gauge spelling is used in the US, is called the four foot, and space between tracks in a double track line is called the six foot.

    Many Asian places use year-month-day order for dates.  There are Asian languages (is it most of them?) that do not have gender pronouns, as a result of which you can get random misusages

    Bad conversions from Common English units to Metric units are common, also carrying unwarranted precision.  That is, a rounded value in one system is given too many significant figures in the conversion.  Here understanding of what you are doing is important.  For example, mph to km/hr conversions should be whole number, that is 70 mph is either 112 or 113 km/hr.  Do not call it 110 km/hr unless the person of the metric end wants it that way.  Conversely, 300 km/hr is 186 mph, not 185 or 180 or 190 mph.  Many times you will find mis-converted items where multiple units are involved.  One I have seen more than once is in rail.  The US common is in pounds per yard.  The metric common is in kilograms per meter.  I have seen the weight unit converted without the length unit being converted,  The real conversion is almost exactly 2:1, and is best called out as if it were exactly that.  In other words, a 100 lb/yd rail is a 50 kg/m rail.  In the other direction, 60 kg/m is 120 lb/yd.  Then in the same vein, there are differing shapes with the same nominal weight.  There is a Euronorm 60, a Chinese 60, a Japanese 60, and an Australian 60, and maybe even a couple others, as it seems that 60 kg/m has become somewhat of a magic number for rails in many locations.  These sections are not interchangable, as they have differing base widths, overall heights, and head shapes.  I have seen these misnamed in international publications.  And then, the 60 kg/m is nominal.  There are small variations in actual unit weight. 

    Pressure and loads are others that can have multiple confusing mis conversions, and sometimes these are within the metric units themselves.  Kilograms per unit length or area unit versus Newtons per length or area.  Thanks to gravity being near 10:1, that is 9.8 Newtons/sec^2, this one is easily missed.  And then you have the "bar" used in pressure.

    There are countries that have nominally gone metric, but still use feet and pounds, etc, for many common usages.  One example, a person from a nominally metric country that will tell you their weight in pounds and height in feet-inches.  There was another example where in the specifications and plans conversions from US to metric were carefully and properly made, and then it was found that the manufacturer for some of the materials still had all his equipment doing things in English units.  There are other things that can surprise you as well, but I will quit here.

    George Harris Aff.M.ASCE
    Senior Track Engineer
    Olive Branch MS

  • 7.  RE: International Team Challenges - Differences in time-zones, terminology, etc.

    Posted 02-14-2022 11:56 PM
    When working with international groups from around the world, always be very clear about the units being used (I often would express numeric values in multiple systems so that my meaning was perfectly clear - such as using US tons and then metric tonnes parenthetically). When expecting email responses, I would set a deadline including the expected reply-by date and time in both local units (Pacific Daylight Time) and Greenwich Mean Time (Zulu). Using military time (24 hour format) is very useful internationally, Christophers' idea about dates is spot-on; just use complete dates, i.e. September 12, 2021. When trying to set up a zoom meeting (or anything like that) I would include a sign-up spreadsheet in the meeting invitation for the preferred meeting times of the participants (including times in both local and GMT units). I found that from the US Pacific coast the toughest timing to accommodate was that of most of Asia (Japan, Singapore and Malaysia come to mind especially). Finally, include a phone number for potential meeting attendees to call you personally, even at home in the evening, so as to answer questions and offer clarifications in a way that would not embarrass participants in front of their colleagues. Ed Gervais, P.E., F. ASCE, retired

    Edward Gervais P.E., F.ASCE
    Technical Fellow
    Seattle WA

  • 8.  RE: International Team Challenges - Differences in time-zones, terminology, etc.

    Posted 02-16-2022 06:14 PM
    A few of the challenges I have seen relate to the use of specifications and codes. For example, when reviewing a drawing produced overseas for use in the U.S., the welding symbols used were a challenge. As someone that is not bilingual, the interpretation of specifications, codes and the references contained within have been a challenge among designers, engineers and those responsible for the construction since the development of building codes (starting with fire codes). AWS weld symbols, their limitations, exceptions and application may be exceptionally challenging for someone whose 1st language is not English. I am more than certain the reverse is true when supporting engineering or construction projects in other countries. Project & construction management need to ensure that reference materials are readily accessible to all personnel. I have argued this point in various industries and construction projects. 

    AWS= American Welding Society
    AISC=American Institute of Steel Construction
    ACI=American Concrete Institute
    AISI=American Iron and Steel Institute (Cold Formed Steel)

    Took a while to unify building codes within this country. Took some time to develop ICC.

    I have never seen a welding code or standard from another country, so I have no means of making any comparison. We spend so much time getting comfortable with our own codes and standards that change every few years, I applaud anyone that is utilizing others.

    We are challenged with trying to capture and interpret "intent" with written language. Personally, I am often challenged with ensuring my intent is captured in drawings/plans or sketches with the minimal use of words in my own language. [Note: I do seek out assistance with trying to translate my intent to another language. My computer software and online translator seem to convert my English to another language. When I convert it back to English, it is never matches.]

    By the way, is there a translator that can be tailored to a specialty (i.e., Structural Engineering)?
    As someone that looks up any reference section, specification and/or code that is found in any sentence, it is time consuming (but necessary) in any language.

    James Williams P.E., M.ASCE
    POA&M Structural Engineering, PLC
    Yorktown, VA

  • 9.  RE: International Team Challenges - Differences in time-zones, terminology, etc.

    Posted 02-21-2022 11:50 AM
    My project management thesis was on this very subject and I found that generally, the type of technology used in communicating can be a game-changer--even more significant than cultural differences and time zones.
    My company is presently working on a project with an Israeli architectural firm. We're from the West Indies which is where the project is located, and it has been difficult to impress on the architect the significance of basic wind speeds in excess of 165 mph while having to communicate with her through the client rep/contractor (probably due to time zone differences). It is quite exciting though!

    Richard McGrath A.M.ASCE
    Structural Engineer
    Airdrie AB

  • 10.  RE: International Team Challenges - Differences in time-zones, terminology, etc.

    Posted 02-28-2022 10:34 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 02-28-2022 10:34 AM

    Mr. McGarth:
    Failure to understand realities in local conditions can lead to many issues beyond measuring systems.  Your wind speed issue plays out in many localities.  Another issue that frequently is inadequately considered is seismic loading.  In my experience, sometimes it seems that engineers who are not local come in with a "we know better than you ignorant locals" attitude.  

    Many times if you look carefully, local practices you do not understand are done for good reason.  I saw this frequently in quite a few years of working in Taiwan, with shorter stints in other Asian countries.  One example was our architects not understanding the very heavy roll up doors common there compared to common US practice.  One experience with typhoon winds would cure that one.  Likewise, use of concrete block segments as cover over flat roofs rather than gravel. Ask the people about one of the common forms of window damage in Houston TX during a hurricane a few years back.  There were multiple breaks in windows on the upwind side of taller buildings that were downwind of shorter building topped with the typical gravel covered flat roof. Here is where a look at practices in other countries could be beneficial to ours."  Another is when it comes to seismic issues. If in an earthquake prone area, it is a good idea to learn the Japanese codes as I believe they are far better than just about anyone else's.  A quake making major news in California barely gets more than a mention in that part of the world.  Conversely, ADA considerations seem to be neglected in many parts of the world, or are minimally or awkwardly applied.  Time zones:  Yes.  When you are 12 hours out from the US east coast, emails generally take 24 hour cycles unless you like to do your professional correspondence in the middle of the night. 

    Holidays: When you have a personnel office in the US, who misunderstands that your days off and on do not match the US calendar, this can affect your paycheck.  As part of this, understand that in the Chinese based parts of the world the multiday Chinese New Year holiday makes Christmas in the US look like a busy day.  One year working in Hong Kong with the family in Taipei, I could not get out on the last day before the holiday, So, on the next day which was in the holiday, I did get out.  Because a taxi was not to be seen, I went to the airport, by bus, which was running on a skeleton schedule, missed the first flight (which actually did not fly) was first in line for the next one, but there was no line, went through the one customs line open by myself, walked through the ghost town that was the airport to the gate and was greeted by name.  (a surprise as coach passengers are essentially anonymous) and was informed that "you are our only passenger", got on and they backed out of the gate and we took off early.  They flew only because they needed the plane back in Taipei and the crew wanted to be back home.  This was on a 747.  By the way if you were to assume that since this is Asia, Chinese New Year would be a big thing in Japan or Korea, it is not a holiday at all.

    George Harris Aff.M.ASCE
    Senior Track Engineer
    Olive Branch MS

  • 11.  RE: International Team Challenges - Differences in time-zones, terminology, etc.

    Posted 02-28-2022 11:21 AM
    This was quite an interesting anecdote! Thank you for sharing!

    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer